Starting 5: Another No. 1 goes down, Michigan is wildly overrated and a Baylor-Butler thrill-fest
Welcome back to the Starting 5. The Starting 5 is written multiple times per week by Adam Spencer to keep you up-to-date on all the news and events in the world of college hoops. You can follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamSpencer4.
It has been one of the slowest weeks of the college basketball season. However, the few games we’ve had this week have certainly provided plenty of entertainment value.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into these past few days of college action:
1. The Opening Tip
It has been a crazy season, especially for teams ranked No. 1 overall. First, Michigan State lost on opening night to Kentucky. Then, Kentucky moved to No. 1 in the AP Poll.
Then the Wildcats lost at home to Evansville. That moved Duke to No. 1, at least until the Blue Devils were beaten at home by Stephen F. Austin.
Since then, Louisville has been No. 1. The Cardinals looked the part for a while, too, blowing out then-No. 4 Michigan during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. But on Tuesday in New York, Louisville was thoroughly beaten by an unranked (but still tough) Texas Tech team. The final score was 70-57, but it didn’t seem that close.
Texas Tech’s defensive game plan was brilliant. Just look at this breakdown provided by Jordan Sperber of Hoop Vision:
It’s almost impossible to play better defense than that. Based on that game plan, it’s no wonder Texas Tech and Virginia met for the national championship last year. Defense wins titles, people!
So, how do you take down a No. 1 team? Well, the Red Raiders did it in interesting fashion. Walk-on guard Avery Benson played 22 minutes, turning in 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks:
– Before last nights game, Avery Benson was averaging 2.2ppg and he came off the bench to help Texas Tech beat number #1 Louisville with 10pts, 4 boards, 2 blks, and 1 stl.
– Stay mentally and physically prepared! pic.twitter.com/Wl5lLWN9sf
— New Age Elite Sports (@NewAgeElite) December 11, 2019
Who is going to be No. 1 next, you ask? I have no idea. Kansas is No. 2, but I’d probably put No. 3 Ohio State in the top spot of the next rankings. The Buckeyes play Kentucky in Las Vegas on Dec. 21, though, so if they end up at No. 1, that’s certainly a game they could lose.
Maybe we just avoid naming any team No. 1 in the country until February? That seems to be the only way to help the top team avoid an awful loss these days.
2. Home-court Advantage
Well, it’s tough to have a home-court advantage when no one is playing on your court. Between the last Starting 5 (on Tuesday, in case you missed it) and today, there have been exactly 0 games involving SEC men’s basketball teams.
Naturally, this is the time of year we have to pretend that the players are “student-athletes” and have “finals” to “take” at their respective “schools,” but I think we all know the case by now. Sure, some players are in it for the academics, but for many others, basketball is a full-time job.
Fortunately, there’s a full slate of games over the weekend, and it will be a great couple of days of college basketball action. We’ll have Memphis-Tennessee, Alabama-Penn State, Saint Louis-Auburn, Georgia-Arizona State, South Carolina-Clemson and other intriguing games.
But, until then, I’m sorry, but I just don’t have anything to write about in this section.
Oh, but hey… there was plenty of action elsewhere around the country!
3. Road Game
To be honest, I didn’t think I’d have much to write about here. Then Louisville lost. But that’s obviously worth a spot in “The Opening Tip.”
So then I was on the search for some other interesting news. Fortunately, the limited schedule provided some upsets, some great clashes and some impressive individual performances.
First, I want to start with Illinois’ win over No. 5 Michigan. I think we can all agree that the Wolverines didn’t deserve to jump from unranked to No. 4 following the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Yes, they beat a wildly overrated top 10 North Carolina team. That Tar Heels squad can’t score to save its life. And yes, they also beat a top 10 Gonzaga team. That was a legitimately good win, but the Bulldogs were banged up at that point.
The Wolverines are good, don’t get me wrong, but let’s put them in the 15-20 range where they belong and get them out of the top 10. Meanwhile, Illinois is actually pretty good. The Illini lost by 2 points to Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, lost on an incredible last-second shot by Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr. and lost to a ranked Arizona team earlier this year.
Freshman big man Kofi Cockburn is a huge part of Illinois’ success, recording a 19-point, 10-rebound double-double against the Wolverines. He also had 4 blocks. But, perhaps the craziest moment of the night came after one of Cockburn’s and-1 plays.
As you can see, when he was celebrating the and-one, he clobbered the referee:
Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn just smoked a ref in the face (totally unintentional) while celebrating an and-one. Being a ref is a tough business: pic.twitter.com/ybOyHCv7SY
— Adam Spencer (@AdamSpencer4) December 12, 2019
Ouch. Cockburn is listed at 7-feet tall and 290 pounds. Not someone you want to hit you like that.
Another moment we have to talk about is this incredible dunk by Giorgi Bezhanishvili:
Giorgi Bezhanishvili dunked this on Jon Teske, Mo Wagner, Trey Burke, Mitch McGary, Jim Harbaugh, and Denard Robinson pic.twitter.com/7twDldOeRd
— The Brotherhood (@The_Brothrhood) December 12, 2019
That’s a poster, and it comes from a guy who hasn’t put many defenders on posters. Bezhanishvili finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds.
Illinois faces Old Dominion this weekend before traveling to St. Louis for the annual rivalry game with Mizzou on Saturday, Dec. 21. I’ll be back home in the St. Louis area for that game, and can’t wait to watch it with my Mizzou and Illinois friends!
Here are some of the other top stories from around the country:
- Northern Iowa is an incredible team this year — perhaps the best in the Missouri Valley Conference. That’s saying something, even though Wichita State recently moved to the American Athletic Conference. Colorado found that out the hard way. The Buffaloes have had a tough week. First, they lost to Kansas. No big deal, as Kansas is the No. 2 team right now. Then, though, they hosted UNI and lost 79-76. That’s not so great for the Buffs.
- Let’s talk about Rutgers. No, the Scarlet Knights haven’t had many good things to talk about recently, but they did beat Wisconsin 72-65 on Wednesday night. And, they looked good doing it. Check out these incredible uniforms and warmups:
Greetings from the RAC, where Rutgers will be rocking these throwback uniforms against Wisconsin. The warm-ups are equally fire, in case you were wondering. pic.twitter.com/arwqTAd76i
— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) December 11, 2019
- Baylor G Mark Vital may only be 6-5, but that didn’t stop him from having 3 blocks (to go with 7 points and 5 rebounds) on Saturday as No. 11 Baylor took down No. 18 Butler in Waco. Check out this game-saving block Vital had in the final seconds:
— Phenom Hoops' College Basketball (@Phenom_CBB) December 11, 2019
- Baylor has 3 Top 25 wins this year. The Bears will be a force to be reckoned with in Big 12 play and probably into the NCAA Tournament in March.
- Maryland has been flirting with disaster lately, as mentioned in the Illinois section above. Finally, that flirtation turned to a real disaster Tuesday, as the Terps lost at Penn State. Penn State F Mike Watkins finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. Even against Maryland’s more impressive size, Watkins was able to get to the rim, like he did on this alley-oop:
- It is wild that Iowa has 3 losses this season, to DePaul, San Diego State and Michigan. The way they’re playing lately, though, with blowout wins against Minnesota and Iowa State, they should be much better. A game against Cincinnati on Dec. 21 will show us if they’re for real.
See? I told you there was plenty of non-SEC action to talk about.
4. Outlet Pass
Things pick back up over the weekend, both in the SEC and everywhere else in college basketball. Here are the top 5 games that will take place between now and the next Starting 5 on Tuesday:
- No. 13 Memphis at No. 19 Tennessee (3 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN) — There’s no love lost between these 2 teams, and that shows on the court. Hopefully everyone in attendance can avoid defecating on the floor this time around.
- No. 6 Gonzaga at No. 15 Arizona (10 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2) — This is a battle for the title of “Best in the West.” Gonzaga is fresh off a road win at a ranked Washington team and now has its sights set on the Wildcats.
- No. 10 Oregon at No. 5 Michigan (Noon ET Saturday on CBS) — As mentioned above, the Wolverines are wildly overrated. Still, they can do a bit more to earn their ranking if they can defend their home court against a tough Oregon team on Saturday.
- Saint Louis vs. No. 12 Auburn in Birmingham (4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2) — This is the annual Mike Slive Classic, honoring the late SEC commissioner. Auburn struggled against Furman its last time out, so we’ll see if the Tigers can handle this tough Atlantic 10 team.
- Georgia at Arizona State (8 p.m. ET Saturday on Pac-12 Network) — As y’all should know by now, I’m a huge Anthony Edwards fan. But, can the Bulldogs win their first true road game? Arizona State won’t go down easy.
Not a bad slate of games for a December Saturday! Bundle up and settle in for a full day of college action.
5. Buzzer Beaters
This is the section in which I’ll answer a couple of random questions (that don’t necessarily have to be related to basketball). The first question today comes to us from my good friend Robert.
If you had partial amnesia, would you rather be able to rewatch old movies/TV shows like they were new or relive past sporting events as if they were happening in real time?
Wow, that’s a tough question. My initial instinct is to say TV and movies. I would love to rewatch “The Office” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Parks & Recreation” and “The Simpsons” and any number of other shows for the first time.
However, I think I’d choose sports. The amount of joy the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 and 2006 World Series wins brought me can’t be surpassed. Neither can the Green Bay Packers’ 2011 Super Bowl title (2011 was a great year for me). Plus, I could rewatch the Illinois comeback against Arizona during the 2005 NCAA Tournament for the first time, and that would be incredible.
Yeah, I’m going to go with sports on this one.
What’s your favorite random team to watch this year?
Interesting question. I’m assuming this precludes Mizzou and Illinois, which are the 2 teams I actively root for. So, for that reason, I’ll go with Baylor and Arizona.
I really love what Scott Drew is doing with the Bears, and Arizona has some really fun players, led by Nico Mannion. Baylor just beat Arizona last weekend (as we discussed above), but I’d love to see them play again. I’ll give Butler an honorable mention, too.
Enjoy the Starting 5? Have a question? Want to yell at me about something? Follow me on Twitter @AdamSpencer4 or email me at ASpencer@SaturdayDownSouth.com.